Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Perception dictates reality in gun debate

Over at Concurring Opinions, Donald Brahman provides an explanation for why the gun debate generates so much heat, but very little light.
Persons who hold egalitarian and communitarian worldviews worry more about crime and gun accidents, an anxiety that coheres with their negative association of guns with patriarchy, racism, and selfish indifference to the well-being of others. Persons of a hierarchical and individualistic worldviews, in contrast, tend to see guns as safe, and worry much more about the danger of being rendered defenseless against attack; this perception of risk coheres with their positive associations of guns with traditional social roles (father, protector, provider) and individualistic virtues (self-reliance, courage, physical prowess). |The Cultural Cognition Project|

So your views about life and liberty determine your views on guns. That seems reasonable.

The blog post goes on to point out that Americans don't just disagree about matters of abstract principle, but that these disagreements make us distrust (if not dislike) people who hold the opposing view.

Americans not only prize different principles, they view the world as working in fundamentally different ways. In fact, it's probably a good bet that using this kind of emotionally laden illustration of just how good or bad guns are at protecting or harming people is certain to not make headway in the gun debate. Because people conform their understandings of the way the world works to their deepest cultural commitments, claims that school shootings clearly supporting one side of the debate strike opponents as profoundly deceptive and disingenuous because to them the opposite inference is just as obviously supported by the same facts.

Opposing parties come away from this sort of debate not just believing that their opponents prize different values (say autonomy, martial prowess and individual self-reliance v. collective responsibility, pacifism and reliance on the state for protection, for example), but that the other side is decidedly deluded or untrustworthy when it comes to the facts. And the less trustworthy or more deluded the opponents in this debate believe each other to be, the less willing they are to make even reasonable concessions for fear that if they give an inch, they'll be taken for a mile. As a result, those claiming that school shooting "prove" something are having the paradoxical effect of hardening their opposition and further polarizing the debate. And that's a shame because it decreases that chance that reasonable, moderate measures will prevail. |Concurring Opinions|(emphasis added)

That seems totally reasonable to me. But where do we go from here?

By framing the problem in this way, it suggests that the answer lies in a compromise between the viewpoints and I think that is true. We need collective action as well as personal dedication for solving our problems.

Some suggest that bipartisanship is a one-way street in this country where Democrats essentially cave into the demands of Republicans, and that is certainly true of our current administration. But we must change that if we're going to make any progress in reforming the really serious problems facing our society. Gun violence pales when compared to problems like fossil fuel dependence, global warming, overpopulation, contamination of fresh water, and the looming mass extinction event due to the foregoing issues.


dr said...

Politically, I think gun control is something that the left should abandon as just not worth the trouble.

That said, I'm often struck by the fantasies of competence that suffuse the rhetoric of the pro-gun crowd. There's empirical evidence that seems to show that owning a gun actually makes you less safe, and yet every gun owner seems to think that they personally are the anomalous action hero. It's wishful thinking. The truth is that without a lot of training there's not much chance that an armed person will respond well in a crisis situation.

Safety Neal said...

Surprisingly, I think we agree.

The right to bear arms has proven unassailable in domestic politics and Democrats have been more successful recently when they are pro-gun.

Guns don't increase safety or survivability, they increase lethality. The feeling of power one gets with increased lethality is very sexy, but increased lethality leads to tragedy more often than not. Still that feeling of power and the fantasies it engenders are legislatively unassailable in our culture.

First aid kits, flashlights, body armor and access to medical care in a time of crisis increase survivability. Luck and youth never hurt your chances. I think pepper spray makes me safer than a gun, which is why I carry pepper spray and leave my guns in the safe most of the time. I always carry a first aid kit in my backpack ... but I don't always carry a backpack.

Imagine if everyone at Virginia Tech had been carrying a first aid kit instead of a gun...

Of course that's as much a fantasy as everyone on campus carrying a gun.